How an Email about Free Food Led Me to Becoming Self-Employed

I was guilty of being irresponsible. I found myself scrolling aimlessly through all of my social media apps during a Grapes to Wines lecture my junior year at Cornell University. I was not paying attention because instagram was calling my name this particular day (who am I kidding, it always calls my name).

I should have been paying attention to what rootstock I should use to increase cold tolerance in vines.

As I continued to lose myself in the digital world that is my phone, I received an email, that for most college students, hope to receive, titled “Free Hot Wings at Warren Hall.”  I opened it with a smile (who doesn’t love free food!) and read further, “if you are a student entrepreneur and want to learn how to win 5K, you should come to Warren Hall Room 114 to eat free wings and hear about this opportunity.”

I was sold at  “free hot wings” but the money sparked my interest further.

As soon as I entered the meeting room, I was immediately in heaven- so many flavors of wings to choose from!  As I was stacking my plate higher than the empire state building, an announcement was made explaining that all in attendance who had student businesses had to give an elevator pitch. My soaring appetite immediately was destroyed by the thought of public speaking. I was not prepared what-so-ever and did not even know how to give an elevator pitch!

I quickly ran behind the nearest table and googled wine facts like my life depended on it. I researched a few interesting statistics and hoped I would survive the possibility of public embarrassment.  

My name was called first! I could feel my face becoming hotter than the buffalo wing sauces  waiting for me at my seat. To my surprise, I rocked the audience. Why do we underestimate ourselves? Turns out, I work work well under pressure.  

I was no entrepreneur, but that meeting made me want to be one.

The degree I was pursuing? Viticulture and Enology and to graduate, there was a requirement to complete a capstone project. A rare spark of motivation graced my lazy student life during my junior year, and so I started working on this project.  

I wanted a wine label that was a reflection of who I am.

RedHead.  

I used characteristics of myself and designed a blend that matched the branding, “Sweet and spicy, just like a redhead!”   

This is what I pitched.

Because I took a chance – and dared to dream, I was nominated by my college within Cornell, The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to represent them at the first annual Student Business of the Year competition.  

My friend, Matthew Kurtas, who is now on my board of advisers and a certified Sommelier, and several professors mentored me to prepare for my formal pitch.  

Ever pitched your business?

While preparing, I learned I had something special. This time I didn’t win the competition like I did over a plate of spicy chicken wings, but I did win in experience.

1. I ate wings until I couldn’t fit another one in my body.

2. I started to overcome my fear of public speaking by sharing my passion.

3. I’m now following my dreams, as cliche as that sounds – but it’s true! I work full-time for RedHead and have learned to turn fear into positive energy. I found my voice which is helping me not only push myself past my comfort zone, but curate my career.  

Keep your eyes open. An opportunity could present itself at your next local chicken wing eating contest. Sometimes, the best opportunities present themselves in the most unexpected ways.

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